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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I heard this woman -- quiet face, quiet eyes, a swath of long red hair down her back -- say, "Are you kidding? A woman doesn't belong in the seat of a fighter pilot. We're too emotional. It's hormones really. Half the time we're having our periods, or getting them, or getting over them. Some jobs aren't for us."

I had to stop. I had to close my mouth. I had to remind myself that I'm not a violent person and that I don't believe in punching someone in the face. I said, "Okay." I said, although the words burnt my tongue as they came out, "Let me think about it."

It took me years to admit that my periods affect me emotionally and mentally. I get volatile; I eat when I'm not hungry; I don't feel like doing anything; the smallest glitch in how my day is supposed to be going makes me shut myself up in a dark room and turn into an irritable existentialist. I get nauseated in the Sartrean sense.

I don't want to be a fighter pilot. But just for argument's sake I wondered how I would do as a fighter pilot with pre-menstrual syndrome. Not well, I thought. Not well at all. I remembered how excited I was when the drug Seasonale was announced some time ago; it allows women to have only four periods every year. I didn't know the details but it sounded pretty extraordinary. I felt another revolution in the making, like the one brought about by the birth-control pill.

But something disturbs me about all this: it's that so much of our lives are controled by biology, that our minds have to fight our bodies in order for us (I mean women) to make progress in the world, to be truly free in it. A fallacy lurks here, though. There isn't only one kind of freedom to be had; each woman has to define it for herself. It can be the freedom to believe that a woman can be as good a figher pilot as a man; or the freedom to believe that a woman can't. I can't help feeling betrayed by this latter belief. But I don't want either for all women to agree on all things and stick together in their convictions like frightened sheep. There's a place for sisterhood; and there's a place for dissent.

I have to remind myself over and over to check my definitions when I think about women and men's places in the world. I can say: yes, periods are a fact of my life. But I don't have to accept, like the beautiful red-haired woman, the definition that a woman having a period is a woman who cannot think clearly. After all, I get a lot of practice at this menstruation thing, and I learn every time how to cooperate with what's happening instead of fighting it. When my menstrual alter ego rears its pugnacious head, I say hello. I say, how are you. And then I go on with my business, a little flustered maybe, but still me.


Blogger Marigoldie said...

This is such a frustrating situation. It's nice to have acknowledgement for what we endure each month (it's the mood swings I'm most concerned with; I could go forever without mentioning the unpleasant physical symptoms), but I don't want the world to hold it against me, and say that it makes me less capable.

I love the idea of saying "hello." In many ways I savor the wildness of the hormonal trip. I try to be grateful for my own complexities. Having a period requires a lot of self-talk, I guess. Lots of checking in, lots of encouragement. And, like you, after doing it for 24 years now, I'm better at it, but it's still a work in progress.

May 09, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

Ah, being grateful for one's complexities (a wonderful expression) -- what enormously hard work. I get frustrated that so much in our lives has to be a work in progress -- why can't perfection exist, damn it -- is what it is.

May 09, 2006  

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